J.I.D Helped Connect 6lack and J. Cole for ‘Pretty Little Fears’
It's been two years since 6lack dropped Free 6lack and emerged from the shadowy crevices of East Atlanta and established himself as a rising star in the alt-R&B space. In that time, he's had a baby girl, toured with The Weeknd and earned himself a few RIAA certifications. A lot's changed for 6lack, but after dropping his sophomore album, East Atlanta Love Letter, he's experiencing a case of career déjà vu.
"I felt like this was day one all over again," 6lack tells XXL of releasing his new LP. "You know, we have our core, we have our fans. We’ve done amazing tours, amazing venues, amazing shows, but this is day one again. This is a chance to start a new ground."
Thus far, the fresh start has gone well. While 6lack's first effort debuted at No. 68 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, East Atlanta Love Letter landed at No. 3.
"If you listen to me, you're proud right now," 6lack says. "And if you don’t listen to me, everybody’s talking about me right now."
6lack phoned XXL to speak about fatherhood, working with J. Cole and Future, his biggest lessons as an artist and, of course, East Atlanta Love Letter.
XXL: Last fall, you uploaded a note to Twitter announcing that you were postponing your European tour to focus on music and fatherhood. What was your mindset when you posted that message?
6lack: I felt like I had an understanding of what my core and what my fan base was. Obviously, they wanted new music and they were waiting patiently. I don’t really have to feel the pressure that somebody else might feel or that are other artists might deal with. I was already touring for a year at that point. That was just me communicating my relationship with them, which has always been from artist to fan directly. I had a moment where I felt like I needed to talk to them and that’s exactly what I did.
How has life been balancing fatherhood and life as a performer?
It’s definitely 50-50. Sometimes it’s great; sometimes it’s horrible. Figuring out timing and scheduling is a task but I know exactly what the purpose of it is, so I try not to let the process bother me too much. At the end of the day, it’s not even about making sure my daughter's good financially. It’s about leaving something behind for her to figure out her own purpose and be inspired by.
I wake up every day figuring it all out. When I can see her, I see her. She’s always taken care of and loved for. The rest is just gonna figure itself out over time. I did go through having a newborn and having to re-introduce yourself every time you get off the road and feeling bad. "Does my kid even know me?" You know, just like, the craziest thoughts. But after a while you just either fall on one side or the other. I just chose to deliver my purpose and know what I’m doing is not wrong, so let me just continue.
What is it that put you into a space where you could write East Atlanta Love Letter right now? Also, what is the overall tone or message of the album?
My last one, Free 6lack, was my life up until that point. And this one literally I don’t have to figure out a thing. I’m going through shit right now, so this one is just my most current thoughts. And the point of the album is to open up the conversation...talking about shit I struggled with so that people can think about the shit they struggled with so they can figure out how to get right.
I know when people hear dark music, they think it’s supposed to be depressing but it isn’t at all. Once you get past the sonic and listen to the words, I’m not saying this shit is going on and I can’t figure it out. I’m actually figuring it out. I have to talk about it and think about it to actually figure it out.
You guested on J.I.D's album The Never Story last year, and now you and J. Cole, the person who signed him, are on a track for East Atlanta Love Letter. How did that one come together? Did J.I.D play a role?
Yeah. J was tellin' me that Cole was a fan and wanted to meet. I pulled up on him at the studio and we were just kickin' it, regular shit. I played a lot of music. And maybe two or three more times after that, us being in the studio chillin', talkin', playin' music. I played him my rough draft and he heard "Pretty Little Fears" and was like, "That’s the one, that’s the one I wanna fuck with."
What was your favorite collaboration on your new project?
I love them in their own ways but my favorite [is] Cole's verse [on "Pretty Little Fears."] It's a very personal verse. I can’t speak for him but I feel like it was written for his wife. I thought it was a great opportunity to give somebody a template to say something that maybe some of their fans don’t even know how he feels about.
You don’t get too much personal shit as far as J. Cole goes. You get what he gives you. For him to step aside and talk about something and write something that even fans kinda perceive it as, "This isn’t just a verse; he’s talking to somebody." I love that feature.
The Future one ["East Atlanta Love Letter"] was obviously amazing 'cause just the relationship, coming from the same side of town and I did my flip on "Perkys Calling" a couple years ago and it's just [come] full circle to have an original record together.
Right. "Ex Calling" was dope. How did you and Hendrix first link up?
Cash XO introduced us at Dave & Busters, because The Weeknd had rented out Dave & Busters. You know, celebrities chillin', playing video games and shit. Cash introduced us and then we spoke another time on FaceTime. By the time I sent the record over for him to hear the idea of it... It was just one of those things where it wasn’t even a conversation. I think he knew it was a hometown ode and I think he knew it was just a different pocket. I can't speak for him...but I just know there was an excitement about it. Like, "I actually just want to be a part of this song."
It's seems like you've been handling fame and the logistics of the music industry pretty well. Have any of your collaborators given you advice?
Me and Cole talked, but it’s just very level. And I kinda feel like any conversation I have with any other musician is always gonna be level unless they’re a new artist, because I feel like I have more information to give to new artists because I feel like I’ve been through enough as far as deals, the grind, everything. I talk to a lot of people but the advice just comes from within for the most [part]. People ask me all the time if I have a mentor. I’m like, "No." I actually figured a lot of the shit out on my own over time.
What was something that you figured out now that maybe you didn't know two or three years ago?
I wouldn’t say "figured out now"; I would say "realized now." A lot of the things that I was tryna figure out back then, those things actually mean something and are coming to fruition. Back when I was tryna figure out who I was, I’m just glad I didn’t upload a shit ton of music to SoundCloud, 'cause I could’ve. I just sat there with myself like, "Do you wanna shoot yourself in the foot or do you wanna wait until you find the right team and do it the right way?" I think it was the realization that I wasn’t trippin'.
Who are some other artists you're working with these days?
Me and Khalid are always working. Me and J.I.D are always working. I have a few features for the rest of the year just kinda waiting. Other than that, nothing specifically. I just like to meet people and link and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I never been a lemme-get-a-feature kinda guy." It always has to be mutual.
Ten years ago you posted a freestyle video on YouTube, and at the time, you posted a comment telling folks that one day you'd be famous. What does the 6lack of 2018 have to that younger version of yourself?
It’s the same guy throughout. My whole thing forever is, I have never gotten to a point where I feel like I’m so accomplished I feel like I don’t have to work. I wake up every day tryna figure out how to get better, how to write better, how to be better. Even then as a kid it can have the same kind of mind state. I know I’m not the best—I’m not gonna talk like I’m the best—but you’ll see the results of me working as hard as I work.
See Photos of 6lack's Different Looks